Guys, Stopping Campus Sexual Assault is on You

The Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN)  reports that 11.2 percent of all college students experience rape or sexual assault while undergraduate or graduate students.

A 2015 survey of women places the number at 23 percent—nearly 1 in 4.

Young men, I need to tell you something, something that maybe your fathers or your coaches or your uncles or your buddies or your action movie heroes never told you, but something that you apparently really need to hear.

I know you’ve been led to believe that when a sexual assault occurs, it’s usually somehow the girl’s fault: the way she dresses, the shape of her body, her flirtatious nature, her mixed messages, her level of intoxication.

I know you’ve grown-up reading and hearing that since guys are really “visual”, that the ladies need to manage that by covering-up and keeping themselves hidden, that they need to drive this whole physical interaction deal—because we’re not capable of restraint in the heat of the moment.

I know the media likes to suggest that when a woman is sexually assaulted, that how she dresses or the way she dances or who she’s dated or how much alcohol she’s consumed is somehow to blame.

And I need you to know that’s a load of garbage.

Stopping sexual assault on campus or anywhere else—is about men not assaulting women. That’s the deal.

Yes, we are visual.
And yeah, we do love the shape of women’s bodies.
We are aroused by their physicality.
Yes alcohol does complicate all of that by clouding judgment.
And our responses to all of that are solely on us—not on them.
You see, we are not helpless victims of our own libidos.
We actually live in our bodies.
We direct the limbs and movements.
We choose what we grab and touch and rub-up against.
Our bodies ultimately do only what our brains tell them to do.
And so guys, sexual assault is not a sex issue—it’s a brain issue.

This is about what we choose to cultivate in our heads and what we choose to do with our hands as a result. It’s about the value we ascribe to another person’s life and about our decency and character and goodness in response to it.

At the end of the day, guys—this is a matter of ownership.

The women you date, those you share classes with and meet on social media, those you pass on campus and hook-up with at parties are not only not property, and they’re not only priceless—they don’t belong to you. It’s really that simple. They are beautiful, specific, never to be repeated in the history of the planet lives, and they merit a reverence befitting that truth.

Women deserve full autonomy over their own bodies. You don’t now, and you never will own a square inch of another human being, and so any part of your actions that breaks the plane of a woman’s body ultimately aren’t your jurisdiction—they’re hers. Yield to her in these matters.

The only thing you own at any given moment, the only thing you’ll ever own—are your body and your choices. That’s why it’s called self-control. This is a poorly cultivated art for us historically, but it’s worth the investment of our time.

I know that’s a rather old-school idea and it isn’t particularly popular or sexy.
It’s not typical pop music fodder.
It’s not something you’ll brag about in the locker room, and it won’t make a good multiplex movie.
It also the place where we move from being men in theory, to men in practice.

True, sincere, decent, mature men don’t rape women—period. They don’t force themselves on or physically intimidate or coerce or take advantage of another human being for their own pleasure.

I’m sorry to have to break this news to you, as I know it’s probably difficult to hear.
It will certainly make life much more challenging for you and you’ll probably have to make some changes as a result, in the way you think and talk about sex. But I also know that these words could alter your relationships now, and preserve your marriages someday. These words can protect women from damage, nurture your character, and shape the campuses and workplaces and communities that other young men will enter after you.

Women shouldn’t have to bear the responsibility for stopping sexual assault. They shouldn’t need to dress differently or carry a gun or take self-defense classes or stop drinking. They shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders or alter their social lives or inventory their dating histories. They shouldn’t always have to account for our propensity as men to be horrible or to take advantage of a compromising situation simply because it presents itself. They should be able to count on better from us. They should be able to count on a baseline of human decency.

Women should be able to walk out every morning into a world where men won’t assault them; men who understand what consent is and why they don’t get to decide for anyone else what that person wants or needs.

That’s the truth today, guys. What you do with that—is on you.

 

 

 

 

 

No Mr. Trump, America is Not a Mess

Dear Mr Trump,

Mess.

I’ve heard you use that word quite a bit over the past few months:

The world is a mess.
America is a mess.
You inherited a mess.

I’m not sure if you actually believe these statements, or whether they, like many things you say are simply lies meant to instill fear and to mask your own deficiencies—preemptive salvos fired in advance of your failures.

Either way, I want you to know that you’re full of it.

America is not a mess—it is complex, and I imagine this is the disconnect if there is one. It doesn’t seen like complex is your gig. America is made of intricate systems and a complicated history and delicate social relationships and elaborate laws, none of which you seem all that interested in or capable of understanding. So yes, I can see how you would look at all of this and be overwhelmed, as this is what 65 million of us saw coming a mile away. We’re just surprised that you’re surprised. 

The reality is, you didn’t inherit a mess, Mr Trump, you received the job that you politicked for, lied for, likely colluded for, sold the remaining segments of your soul for. Even though you weren’t qualified or deserving or chosen by the people, you received the title of Leader of the Free World, and the least you could do is not act like this country owes you sympathy or some special grace period—or that we’re the problem here.

We’re freakin’ amazing, actually.

We’re who we’ve always been: a beautiful, flawed masterpiece in progress. We are a diverse mosaic made of every kind of humanity on the planet, and we’ve been doing this for a couple hundred years and then some—far before you ever showed up. With all our profound imperfections, we have made a home to freedom and equality and goodness like few places on the planet, so don’t you dare pretend that we’re the issue, and don’t make us think that we’re here waiting in our mediocrity (or worse) for you to bestow greatness upon us, because we both know that ain’t happenin’.

This isn’t a campaign promise, it isn’t a news story sound bite, and it isn’t an ego rally speech tossed like raw meat to your shrinking faithful cult of salivating sycophants—this is the Presidency. It is a big person’s job. It’s complicated and it’s difficult and it requires work, and it requires a capacity and commitment that it’s fairly clear you don’t possess. Most of all, it requires an ability to know when you’re attempting something above your pay grade and when you need to delegate to qualified people, instead of flailing around wildly and blaming everyone else when it all hits the fan.

44 other men already sat where you now sit (where a woman should rightly be sitting), and dozens of them inherited far greater financial, social, or military challenges than you have. Yet not one of them daily complained to the Press about how difficult their job was, and they didn’t blame America for being “difficult”, and they didn’t publicly declare their country a mess (of course none of them spent 20 percent of their days on the golf course either, but then again they seemed to realize the gravity and responsibility of the position.)

But the point, Mr. Trump, is that we are not the mess you say we are, we are not standing on the precipice of certain disaster (your staggering recklessness aside), and we are not presently horrible.

If you stopped golfing and Tweeting, and indiscriminately dropping bombs to distract from talk of Russia long enough to actually took a look around, you’d see:

This country is wildly diverse and quite miraculously coexisting in this reality, all things considered.
Christians and Muslims and Jews are serving in the streets of their cities together.
People are marrying outside of their faith traditions and across color lines.
More and more churches are welcoming the LGBTQ community.

Good people are feeding the poor and teaching children and rebuilding neighborhoods and caring for the elderly.
Families are raising children to be decent and generous and compassionate.
Teenagers are discovering who they are meant to be.
College kids are studying hard and forging their dreams in real-time.
We are straight and gay, bisexual and Transgender.
We are people of every pigmentation.
We are Christian and Atheist, Muslim and Agnostic, Jew and Humanist, Native American and immigrant.
We are refugee and undocumented and 4th generations born here.
We are rural whites and coastal elites and Bible Belters and heartlanders.

In other words, America is being who America has been long before you arrived and (if you can manage not to completely destroy us), long after you’re gone, hopefully less than four years from now. Far from perfect, but even further from being a mess—we’re the place where all people are supposed to be treated with dignity and decency, and allowed to pursue life, liberty, and happiness unfettered. We are the land of the free, the home of the brave, and we’re not falling for your nonsense that pretends we’re anything less than that.

So, Mr. Trump, stop being so cavalier and careless with something that we and our forefathers and foremothers worked so hard for. You don’t deserve this country, and the least you can do is stop try to gaslight us into believing that we are broken and in need of fixing or that we’re something doomed that needs saving.

We just need you to stop fighting and derailing and sabotaging us at every turn and we’ll be just fine.

We’re not the mess here, Mr. Trump—

—we’re pretty damn glorious.

 

 

To Church Refugees and Religious Orphans on Easter

Dear Church Refugees and Religious Orphans,

Sometimes people leave organized religion and sometimes organized religion abandons them.

I don’t know which is true for you.

You may have been so wounded and disillusioned by the Church, you felt you had no choice but to walk away; out of grief or self-preservation to declare yourself a prodigal from the faith.

You may have found yourself through coldness or cruelty or explicit words from within, pushed to the periphery and eventually out the door.

You might see yourself as a conscientious objector whose exodus was voluntary or as a relational leper branded as unwelcome by professed religious people. Either way you are outside now and it is painful.

I’m not sure of the circumstances surrounding your current estrangement, but I know that whatever the reasons, there are times that magnify grief for the once-churched—and that Easter is likely one of them. When much of the world is acknowledging something that was once such a part of the rhythm of your life, you feel the distance and the loss more acutely. The calendar reminds you of that separation and the disconnection all over again.

This weekend may trigger spiritual muscle memory for you, reminding you of rituals that were at one time so meaningful, of buildings you once found affinity in, of songs you once sang in the company of people you loved and felt loved by, maybe even of things you used to believe but no longer do. It may stir up in you emotions that you thought you’d long since moved beyond. You may find that a Sunday commemorating resurrection, ironically feels like a day of mourning: for your old church or your younger optimism or your former faith. I’ve heard from many people for whom this Easter will be the first one as Church Refugees or Religious Orphans and they will be deeply grieving with along you.

I’ve known the two extremes of these Spring Sundays. I’ve spent Easters fully secured in the blessed assurance of God’s love for me, of my place in the community of God’s people, and in the redemptive reality of the resurrected Jesus—and felt sweet comfort in that place.

I’ve spent Easters when I’ve been certain of none of those things—and been at times quite fine and other times rightly terrified by that fact.

And this weekend, whether you’re mourning someone you used to be, somewhere you used to feel at home, or a faith you once knew—or whether you’re feeling a rekindled anger at damage that’s been done to you in the name of Jesus, I want to remind you that Jesus is not okay with any of it; your pain, your grief, your injury, your isolation.

I wanted to let you know that whatever God is made of it—it isn’t this. God isn’t the bitterness and judgment and shame you’ve endured. God is not steel and concrete and wood with doors you can be expelled from. God is not something you need anyones’ permission for proximity too, either. Whatever God is, is as close as this breath—so breathe slowly and deeply.

The story of Easter is one of hope that cannot be defeated, of joy that will not be denied, of peace that overcomes. It is celebration that dances in the face of death when it realizes that love always has the last and loudest word. Regardless of whether you find yourself inside or outside a church this weekend, you can claim this very good news as your own. It is not bound to any building, it is not the property of anyone to withhold from you or bestow upon you—and it is not contingent on where you find yourself this Sunday.

So this Easter, if you end up in a familiar place, singing those songs, and feeling fully welcomed with those gathered, give thanks. But if you don’t; if you spend this Easter regretfully, defiantly, or joyfully on the outside, be grateful for that too, because the truth is, you aren’t any further than you’ve ever been from a Love that holds you.

You may be a Church Refugee or a Religious Orphan, but you are not alone and you are not abandoned.

Happy Easter.

 

 

An Encouragement to Compassionate People

Some measure of compassion is universal.

Every one of us cares deeply about some people; our families, those we feel an affinity for—certainly our own well-being. We all understand selective empathy rooted in self-preservation. It makes perfect sense to be burdened for the safety and happiness of our children, our spouses, the people we live and work closely alongside. This all feels quite normal and it is difficult enough; to experience the pain of others we are emotionally invested in.

But not everyone naturally feels deeply for things and people beyond this close proximity; for humanity as a whole, for the planet, for the welfare of strangers, for the suffering they know exists that they aren’t even aware of. Not everyone is acutely burdened with other people’s pain in such a way that each day brings a fresh wounding. Not all of us spend their lives regularly bleeding for the hurt around them.

And yet if you are such a person, these are incredibly treacherous times because there is so very much to be grieved by. It is a perilous act, simply waking and reaching for your phone and wading into the relentless flood of things capable of breaking a heart. The steady stream of bad news can easily overwhelm those who suffer vicariously. And while others seems quite capable of shutting it all out and resuming normal life, you aren’t—because this is your normal. It is your default setting to give a damn, and for you to try and stifle this guttural impulse is to be less than the truest true of who you are. To do so would be an act of personal treason.

And the problem, is that people who don’t normally feel deeply in this way aren’t equipped to understand the toll these days take on you. They aren’t capable of comprehending the despair that accompanies daily life; the compounding heaviness that builds with each bold-typed headline, with every breaking story, with each bit of graphic video.

I get it. I see you. I understand. I know the invisible weight you’re hauling around lately. And it may not help, but I want you to know you’re in very good company. There is an army of such similarly wounded souls walking the planet right now; people who are equally overwhelmed.

Many people might advise you not to care as much as you do, but I won’t. I know the impossibility of the ask. I know that this is simply who you are, it’s how your heart works. More than that, I know that this is a treasure—this incredible, counterintuitive ability to feel. It is an invaluable gift to the world and it is more precious now than ever. When so many are pushed past the threshold of their compassion by the circumstances, we need resilient hearts that can continue to open themselves to wounding on behalf of others.

And as with all treasures it is costly. This deep empathy comes with sacrifice and sorrow and that’s something you’re going to have to live with, the same way someone oversensitive to ultraviolet rays needs to account for twelve or so hours of sunlight each day. Yes, you need to guard yourself from too much exposure, to shield yourself at times; you need to step away often so that you are not irreparably damaged. That is perhaps the greatest danger for those of us who feel deeply: not becoming compassionate martyrs, not being destroyed by our own hearts, not becoming so consumed by suffering that we succumb to it. Your expiring is not the goal or the desired outcome here, friend, so save some of that compassion for yourself.

But in these days when it is tempting to be apathetic and to turn inward and to say “to hell with it all,” the world needs people who refuse to surrender to the bad news and become calloused and hardened. It needs people who still run headlong into the fray, bleeding hearts affixed to their sleeves; those with just enough hope to believe others are worth sacrificing for, crying for, fighting for, bleeding for.

It needs compassion more than it ever has.

It needs people like you.

Be encouraged today.